Nora Feinstein, 2010 participant in the Steiner Summer Yiddish Program at the Yiddish Book Center, was interviewed by Emma Morgenstern on July 23, 2010 at the Yiddish Book Center. Nora grew up in a Reform Jewish family in Baltimore, Maryland and participated in Reform Jewish life. National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) was a defining aspect of her high school life. She describes herself as a “Jewish life dork” in high school. Through NFTY (pronounced “nifty”), she realized it could be “cool to be involved Jewishly.”
In high school she won a Meitav Fellowship from the Union for Reform Judaism, enabling her to interact with other “scholarly kids” and the leadership of the movement. The Fellowship gave her many opportunities, including a semester in Israel on an Eisendrath International Experience.
Notwithstanding her background in Reform Judaism, Nora enrolled in a joint degree program at Barnard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the rabbinical school and educational institution for Conservative Judaism. She chose this path because it enabled her to pursue both a liberal arts degree and a degree in Jewish Studies. She describes her freshman year as difficult because it presented a “cross-cultural experience within her own culture.” She became aware that there were differences between the experiences and education of Conservative and Reform kids. Although her rabbi is “worried about losing her [to the conservative movement],” she still defines herself as a Reform Jew, but now “with strings and asterisks.” The study of denominationalism in American Jewish Life has become a focus of her studies.
Nora states that she was always drawn to Yiddish because it was the language of “her people,” and was excited that JTS and Barnard offered Yiddish courses. A class in Sholem Aleichem’s literature cemented her interest in Yiddish. Explaining that something in the course just “clicked” for her, she now agrees with her JTS professor, Dr. David Roskies, that perhaps the best reason to study Yiddish is to be able to read Sholem Aleichem in the original. She knew after that course that she had to learn Yiddish to “really get it all.”
She loves learning Yiddish as a participant in the 2010 Summer Program. Her post-internship plans include continuing to study Yiddish and to include it in her scholarly pursuits. Her grandfather has agreed to speak Yiddish with her to maintain her speaking skills.
Asked about reactions to her learning Yiddish, she responds that her grandparents’ and parents’ generations were excited, while her peers asked, “Why?” In response, she says she has learned that “Yiddish alone is reason enough.” She states that it is important to her and to other Jews and non-Jews that we don’t lose the culture of a people. She finds it exciting that “we can keep it alive – do new and exciting things, while preserving the past.”
As of 2010, she is a Discovery Project Fellow for the Yiddish Book Center and is working on a project connected to the Kellerman family, her sponsors for the Summer Program. Henry Kellerman was involved in the Yiddish theater in New York City. She is helping the family collect and organize its Yiddish theater memorabilia, ultimately to create a scrapbook which will enhance the Yiddish Book Center’s collection as well as help the family.
She sees Yiddish as fitting best in her academic world. It enables her to connect with a variety of Jewish people, as well as non-Jews who are attracted to Yiddish. She describes Yiddish as a “pre-fab way of connection to others.”
She described her experience with the internship program as “intense.” She came to the Yiddish Book Center because of a professor, but was leaving with the fire and spark she got from the other participants. Nora described her special moment of the summer as a literature class taught by Dr. Allison Schachter. The class read a poem in Yiddish that Nora had read in English at JTS. Getting through it in Yiddish gave her hope as a Yiddish student.
The interview ends with Nora’s advice to future Yiddish students – “don’t get discouraged” and find moments to cherish.
To cite this interview: Nora Feinstein Oral History Interview, interviewed by Emma Morgenstern, Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project, Karmazin Recording Studio, Yiddish Book Center, July 23, 2010. Video recording, http://archive.org/details/NoraFeinstein23july2010YiddishBookCenter ( [date accessed] )